Recently the provincial health officer where I live, the indomitable Dr. Bonnie Henry, likened the pandemic, now into its second year (blech) as a marathon. She sounded excited and upbeat when she said we were halfway to the finish line. I wanted to cry.
I’ve never run a marathon, but I’ve run some 10k races. When I would hit the middle and couldn’t see the finish line, there were moments where the little voice inside my head counselled me to stop. Find a shady spot with a view and rest for a while, it would whisper. Or, when that didn’t work, Ooh, look! A café. We could really use a pastry right about now. Or if the race was really going poorly, Yes! A bar with a patio- let’s go!
It occurred to me as I struggled with my current work in progress a few days after Dr. Henry’s not-so-inspiring announcement, that writing, like surviving a pandemic, is very much a marathon endeavour. We begin projects with a far-off finish line, and slog day in day out, moving fast some days, and slowly others, toward the goal of a finished draft, an editorial pass, or a finished book. Any of these activities can take months, or (gulp) years. Sometimes, we move backward, pitching huge chunks of a finished draft in the editing process, for example. The finish line can move on us, like when a publishing company passes on your query, sending you back to square one. It’s what excites and terrifies me about the writing process.
Lately, my little voice- some writers call it their inner editor, I think it’s just me being mean to myself- has moved past telling me to step out and get a donut (that was most of 2020) and has stepped up its game. It’s been encouraging me to throw my current project in the trash. It’s told me it’s boring, it’s told me it’s pointless. It’s told me it’s amateurish.
I persisted, so lately, the attacks are getting more personal. It’s been whispering to me I have no talent and I would be better off quitting writing altogether; to just give up and go back to teaching full time because that’s the only place I’ll ever find success. If I’m being honest, I’m getting closer to giving in. And yet, I haven’t. Why?
Because I have no other choice.
I am a writer, it’s what I do. I do it because I have no other choice. And, in my bones, I want to. Surviving a pandemic is no different. The question really isn’t whether I will or will not- even when I was running those 10 k races (slowly, I might add) I never once quit. I always finished the race and was proud of myself when I did. What I must do to finish this first draft and make it through the last leg of this pandemic, is to think like a marathon runner.
- Shut out the negative and change my inner narrative- no one wants an abusive coach, so why am I putting up with one.
- Break the task down into much smaller increments. Just take it a kilometre at a time. Be present and enjoy the journey.
- Keep my eye on the prize- how good it will feel when I get across the finish line.
- Just. Keep. Running.
I chose three words to guide me in 2021- momentum, mindfulness, and courage. I employed all three when I was running races. I kept moving. I stayed present, and I dug deep and pushed past the pain and discomfort until I crossed the finish line. Now, I need those same skills to help me finish the biggest races of my life. But just like my racing days, I will only succeed if I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, my first draft will get finished. Someday, the pandemic will be over. I have to stay in the race if I want to enjoy the moment I cross the finish line. We all do.
I’ll meet you for donuts when it’s over.